SDJ Buzz: Kennerspiel des Jahres 2014

Since 2011, the Spiel des Jahres jury has been giving out an award to a more advanced game, and calling it the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  Initially, this was called the complex game of the year to differentiate it from the family game of the regular SDJ.  These days, people are referring to it as the connoisseur’s game of the year.  I’ve been making predictions every year, and am 2-1 so far – I picked 7 Wonders in 2011 (got it), Village in 2012 (got it), and Bruges in 2012 (Legends of Andor won).  So let’s see how I do this time around.

image by BGG user ikitikat
image by BGG user ikitikat

Concordia is a game by Mac Gerdts that was published by PD Verlag (Rio Grande in the US).  This game is all about trading in the Mediterranean.  Seriously.  Specifically, you’re trading in Roman times to build up your dynasty.  Gerdts is particularly well known for his rondel games – things like Antike, Imperial, and Hamburgum – but this is more of his take on a deck-building game.

On your turn, you play one card from your hand and execute the action.  Your hand consists of all unplayed cards.  Your choices are:

  • Tribune – Take back all of your played cards (plus one money if you take back more than three), and may purchase a colonist.
  • Architect – You can move colonists around the board (you get one movement point per colonist you have on the board, and you can spend these freely).  You can also build houses in cities adjacent to your colonists.
  • Prefect – Choose a province where houses will produce goods OR collect a cash bonus.
  • Colonist – Purchase and place new colonists on the board OR receive 5 money plus one per your colonist on the board.
  • Mercator – Receive 3-5 money, then trade two types of goods with the bank.
  • Diplomat – Execute the action on a card from the top of another player’s discard pile.
  • Senator – Purchase up to two cards from on display.  These go directly into your hand.
  • Consul – Purchase one card from on display.  It goes into your hand.
  • Specialists (Mason, Farmer, Smith, Vintner, Weaver) – All houses of the specified type produce one good each.

The game is over when the last card is purchased, or when someone builds their 15th house.  Everyone gets one last turn, and the player with the most points is the winner.

Concordia has gotten a lot of buzz, and a lot of people are are expecting it to win the Kennerspiel.  Mac Gerdts has been designing for a while, and  the rondel is kind of his calling card.  And while this isn’t strictly a rondel game, the way card actions are almost always available if you’re willing to pay seems very reminiscent of the mechanism.  For me, the only Gerdts game I’ve played is Antike, which I love.  His designs have always seemed very deep and intriguing, so I’m glad to see that he’s getting some recognition from the jury this year.

image by BGG user Gonzaga
image by BGG user Gonzaga

Istanbul is a game by Rüdiger Dorn that was published by Pegasus Spiele (AEG in the US).  In this one, you’re a merchant in a Middle Eastern bazaar.  You have to visit different stalls and leave an assistant behind to take care of details, then you have to pick him up again.  The board is made of 16 tiles that are distributed in a preset layout or randomly (with restrictions).  A turn consists of four phases, though not all will always be used.  For movement, you move your merchant and assistants (a stack of discs) 1-2 spaces orthogonally.  You will either pick up an assistant here, or you will drop one off.  If any other merchants are at your target place, you enter the encounter phase, paying each one 2 lira.

If you haven’t ended your turn due to not dropping off or picking up an assistant, or by not paying other merchants, you may carry out the action of the place.  These actions are:

  • Wainwright – Pay 7 lira to take wheelbarrow extension.
  • Fabirc/Spice/Fruit Warehouse – Move the appropriate goods marker as far to the right as you can in your wheelbarrow.
  • Post Office – Receive resouces as indicated on the mail track.
  • Caravansary – Take two bonus cards and discard one.
  • Fountain – Return any number of assistants to your merchant stack.
  • Black Market – Gain a red, yellow, or green good, and roll the dice for blue goods.
  • Tea House – Choose a number from 3-12, then roll the dice.  If the rolled number is higher, take the announced number.  Otherwise, take 2 lira.
  • Small/Large Market – Sell 1-5 goods of the indicated type.
  • Police Station – Free a family member and send it to another place, carrying out the action of that place.
  • Sultan’s Palace – Deliver the indicated goods for a ruby.
  • Small/Great Mosque – Purchase a mosque tile, which will give you a special ability.
  • Gemstone Dealer – Pay an indicated amount of lira to take a ruby.

After the space action, you have an encounter with any preset family members belonging to other players (send them to the Police Station), the Governor (draw a bonus card), or the Smugler (gain a good of your choice).  The game ends when someone gets to 5 rubies.  After the round is completed, the player with the most rubies wins.

I didn’t really know anything about Istanbul before writing this post, and now that I’ve read up on it, it sounds really cool.  I like the idea of the merchant stack, and how you have to leave assistants around in order to do actions.  Not only that, you have to go back and pick them up since you’re not allowed to stay in the same place.  It seems like a nice resource management game with some good strategic decisions, as well as a good variable set-up to keep things interesting.  It’s one I now really want to play, and I think that’s what the award is all about – shining a light on some great games you might not know.


Rococo is a game by Matthias Cramer, Louis Malz, and Stefan Malz.  It was published by eggertspiele (Eagle Games in the US).  This game is all about dressmaking in the era of Louis XIV, and trying to get your dresses in the highest places of honor.  Over the course of 7 rounds, you’ll be making formal wear and trying to gain prestige.  In each round, you’ll choose three cards from your entire supply to play.  Previously played cards are discarded, which will be used to choose the remainder when you’re out of cards.  You’ll then take turns playing a card and taking an action.  Your options (which may or may not be available based on the employee card you play):

  • Claim the Queen’s Favor – Take the favor card and 5 money (only Masters and Journeymen).
  • Acquire resources – Take one resource tile from any warehouse segment (any employee).
  • Make a dress – Pay the cost on the window for the dress you want to make, then rent it for points or sell it for money (only Masters and Journeymen).
  • Hire a new employee – Take a face up employee card and add it to your hand (only Masters).
  • Depute your employee – Remove an employee from the game, gaining money (any employee).
  • Fund a decoration – Pay for a decoration space on the board (any employee).

After performing the action, you can take the employee’s bonus.  Once everyone is done, everyone gets 5 money plus money based on their funding of the fountain.  After seven rounds, the player with the most prestige wins.

Rococo has a pretty unique theme – not too many games about dressmaking out there.  Also, it’s another take on the deckbuilding mechanism that takes away the random element of drawing your cards.  It’s also kind of got some worker placement as you’re trying to use your workers (which happen to be on cards) to their best ability.  This is one that I’ve been looking forward to trying since I first heard about it, and I’m glad to see it on the list.

It’s tough to get a read on this one.  I honestly have no idea what to predict.  I think I’m going to throw a dart at the wall and call it for ROCOCO. There are two nominated deck-builders on the list, and I tend to notice that when two from the same category are nominated, one of them tends to win.  I think Rococo offers the more unique theme, so I think the jury will go for that.  Concordia, as innovative as it may be, seems really dry.  I’d put it on the heavier end of the nominated spectrum, with Istanbul at the lighter end.  I think Rococo hits that middle spot, and I think it’s going to get the win.  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if any of them won, and I don’t think I’d be too offended either.

Again, take my thoughts with a grain of salt.  Don’t go betting your life savings on my picks, but if you do and win, I expect a cut.

To recap – I’m picking SPLENDOR for the Spiel des Jahres, and ROCOCO for the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  The awards will be announced on July 14, so we’ll see how I did then.  Thanks for reading!


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